MV “Suva Chief” – passenger no. 3 (reaching Australia)
Day 3,095 since October 10th 2013: 196 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
A voyage like no other
Hong Kong’s most familiar bird of prey is the Black Kite which can be found soaring majestically above Victoria Harbor. During February this year, I found myself hotel quarantined, looking at a Black Kite soaring between the buildings and often right past my window on the 20th floor.
Last week’s entry: The adventure continues - South!
On March 17th I joined Swire Shipping’s good ship ‘Suva Chief’ after reverend Rebecca Holm, of the Danish Seamen’s Church, had driven me to the gangway. ‘Suva Chief’ had come along side at Modern Terminal Limited’s (MTL) terminal no. 9. A fitting farewell to Hong Kong, I suppose, as terminal no. 9 had been my workplace throughout much of 2021. And it was this particular terminal which my MTL ID-card as a contractor, would allow me access to enter. Only this time, I would not be leaving the port through the gate. After saying farewell to Rebecca, I swung my duffel bag over my shoulder and made my way up the gangway, where I was met by the duty officer. My luggage was sanitized and a crew member lead me up the stairway to D-deck. Something was already different? We had not entered the accommodation of the ship but rather walked up the stairs on the outside of the superstructure. From there we entered D-deck and I was shown to my spacious cabin. And there I was. Onboard the good ship and within my cabin. Now what?
Thanks for the ride Rebecca. Good luck with Hong Kong! :)
Welcome onboard the good ship 'Suva Chief'!
My cabin on D-deck. Nice!!
As it turned out we were following Swire Shipping’s Outbreak Management Plan and I was to stay quarantined within my cabin for the first few days. Meals were delivered three times a day. Luxury! I made good use of my phones internet connection while I still had signal. Social media posts had already been scheduled for the next fourteen days and I now had the opportunity to add a few photos from my cabin and my first meal onboard. Eventually I heard the ships six-cylinder Wartsila engine start and felt the ship rumble. Soon after we were on our way leaving Hong Kong. Through my cabins manhole I had a splendid forward few across the containers. I saw a bird accompanying us out into the open sea. It was a Black Kite and it felt like it was saying farewell.
The view from my cabins manhole (window). If you look closely you can see the Black Kite to the right of the ship.
Let’s go back to June 12th 2019 at 4:35pm. I had just delivered my 100th speaking engagement at Maersk Singapore. We had had a great time together and I was curious to learn how I could conquer the Pacific Island nations without flying? Maersk explained that while they were keen to help, they simply weren’t well represented among the smaller island nations. I was told that I needed the support of Pacific International Lines (PIL) and Swire Shipping, two shipping companies which dominate the Pacific. Fortunately, the Maersk staff knew exactly who I needed to speak to and I was soon introduced to both PIL and Swire. Let’s take a closer look at Swire. Highly simplified, Swire saw its beginning 150 years ago when John Swire and Sons purchased its two first ships. While Swire Shipping is based in Singapore the connection to Hong Kong is not to be overlooked. Swire Shipping is a subsidiary of Swire Group which in Hong Kong controls a large amount of property including several malls. Also, Swire has been a Coca-Cola franchisee since the mid-1960s, and soft drink production and distribution is one of the groups core activities. Hong Kong’s home carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways, is also owned by Swire. And the list just goes on, and on, and on…
June 2019, Singapore. Telling Swire Shipping about Once Upon A Saga.
In early March 2022 I reached out to James Woodrow at Swire Shipping in Singapore to see if he would help me reach Australia. We first shook hands on June 18th 2019 when I met James in his office. That day I also met Paramesh Prasad and Rasmus Nagel. Back in 2019 the four of us stood around Woodrow’s desk looking at a color printed map I had brought along. There was suddenly hope that the Pacific Ocean could be conquered and that the end of a very long Saga would be in sight. Soon after, I joined two of Swire ships: ‘Jackson Bay’ (to Indonesia) and ‘Shengking’ (to Salomon Islands). Fast forward to January 2020. I got stuck in Hong Kong. But then on January 5th 2022 I joined PIL’s good ship ‘Kota Ratna’ to Palau, and on February 16th 2022 I had returned to Hong Kong onboard PIL’s good ship ‘Kota Ratu’. Soon after that I found myself on the 20th floor looking out the window at a soaring Black Kite. After James received my email in early March 2022, he quickly got me in touch with Leo Mao at Swire Shipping in Shanghai. Leo swiftly and professionally coordinated my boarding of ‘Suva Chief’ with regards to formalities in Hong Kong and his colleagues in Singapore. And that is a highly simplified version of how we joined this beautiful ship.
Uniquely 'Suva Chief' does not have a bulbous bow. Modern design of 2021.
The good ship ‘Suva Chief’ is flagged in Hong Kong, owned by Swire Shipping and operated by Swire Shipping. Her length overall measures 185.79m and she can carry 2,780 TEU (twenty-foot containers). ‘Suva Chief’ has three cranes and operates between Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and China before making her way back to Hong Kong again. She was delivered from the shipyard on January 4th 2021 making her the newest ship I have ever traveled onboard! It is such a unique experience having traveled with 27 other container ships. A number I by the way had to check as it sounds very high to me! Have we really traveled with 28 container ships now? Yes indeed. In comparison we have traveled with more than 330 buses and more than 150 trains.
If you look closely you will see a seafarer hanging off the side of the superstructure. Maintenance.
Safety and drills are a key element of life at sea.
Chief Cook Enoch and Steward Diudi ensured delicious meals three times a day.
On the very first container ship I was listed as “passenger no. 1” which has stuck with me ever since. I thought it was kind of funny as there was no passenger no. 2. Joining these ships as a passenger is a rare privilege in most cases. As such I was surprised to find that I was passenger no. 3 onboard ‘Suva Chief’? It is because of the pandemic and pandemical regulations. The crew onboard consisted of Chinese, Sri Lankans, and Papua New Guineans. The Papua New Guineans could sign on and off in Papua New Guinea (PNG), but the Chinese crew could not sign off in China. They could however sign on to the ship in China. You can only sign on to the ship if you are being replaced by another seafarer. As such two Chinese crewmembers signed on in China but the two off signers could not sign off and had to stay onboard all the way to Australia, from where they could sign off and fly back to China. The logistics of crew change during the pandemic has been, and continues to be a severe challenge!! The two off signers became passenger no. 1+2 and when I joined, I became no. 3. The three of us would all sign off in Australia after 16-days onboard as passengers.
2nd Officer Li taking my temperature during my cabin quarantine.
My cabin quarantine onboard lasted from March 17th until March 21st. As such the first days onboard were quite relaxing. I would read, watch a movie, sleep, shower, look out the manhole, eat and not much else. Three days in a row 2nd officer Li would knock on my door dressed in a full protective suit and conduct a nasal swab on me. And three days in a row I would test negative for COVID-19. The ocean was absolutely calm and we would neither roll nor pitch. Just smooth sailing. And opposite what I’m used to I would actually observe other vessels crossing our path for the first three days. Normally I find that there is nothing out there but ocean and sky. While it is generally nice to be offline, I did miss getting my news updates. Especially in relation to the war between Russia and Ukraine. In my offline ignorance there could have been a dramatical escalation and the USA could have been at war with Russia? Fortunately not.
Watching 'Body of lies' from 2008. Still a good movie.
I read Ken Follett's 'Never' while onboard. Highly contemporary book!
When my cabin quarantine ended, I was given a familiarization tour of the ship by 3rd officer Pathmasiri (Nav). And then I was free to move about on the ship as long as I wore a mask. In fact, for the first 14-days I had to wear a mask and practice shipboard self-distancing, as far as possible, for the first 14-days onboard. I aimed at exercising once daily by walking outside on deck. One lap would amount to about 450m (450 yards) and I would aim for 10km (6.2mi). Meanwhile I would listen to podcasts and look across the calm sea. Again, I was surprised to see more than water. Several times I was able to observe dolphins! And around PNG and Australia there was quite frequently timber or banana trees floating in the water. This was truly a voyage like no other: cabin quarantine, calm ocean, ships, dolphins, timber.
Absolutely calm oceans all the way. And then one day I spotted Papua New Guinea! :)
Captain Wang was kind enough to connect me on the ships WIFI. The crew and I were allotted 1gb per week which I found to be enough for most things but not enough for actual work. It was however a bonus as I did not expect to get online at all while onboard. And once we reached Lae in PNG, Captain Wang helped me get hold of a PNG sim-card and some credit. As such I managed by preparing social media post before leaving Hong Kong, by having access to the ships satellite connection, and by supplementing with the sim-card while alongside in PNG. After three days in Lae, we continued to PNG’s capital city Port Moresby. PNG became the Saga’s country no. 188 back in October 2019 and I spent almost all my time in Port Moresby back then.
A room with a view. After this port call I lost my view as the containers were stacked up beyond my cabin :)
I have a real passion for PNG which I think is one of the few countries left in the world which can offer some real old fashion exploration and adventure. There are most definitely several undiscovered species within the world’s third largest rainforest, and tribes which are untouched by the modern-day way of life. The mountains stretch as high as 4,509m (14,793ft) into the sky and archeologists believe that humans arrived to the massive island some 50,000 years ago. It was in many ways nice to be back.
'Suva Chief's' fresh water generator. Salt water in - fresh water out. Must be magic! ;) Chief Engineer Shi gave me the royal tour of the engine room.
Fresh drinking water almost ad libitum! Straight from the ocean, treated and delivered to my water bottle. Perfect!
All in all, it was a pleasant voyage covering 3,909 nautical miles (7,241km/4,489mi) from Hong Kong, across the equator, to Australia. Calm seas, beautiful skies, very little rain, a few spectacular sunsets, some nights with more stars than anyone could possibly count, good food, and a very kind crew. I particularly loved that there were no plastic water bottles onboard. While most container ships have a fresh water generator it is often common practice for the seafarers to consume bottled water. And it quickly adds up to tens of thousands of plastic water bottles. Ships have strict waste management guidelines and the empty plastic bottles are surely discarded in the proper manner. It is just so much better when we are not generating plastic waste at all! The crew and I were issued a reusable plastic water bottle and there were several stations onboard to refill the bottle, which made it really easy. Minerals are added to the water and I found that it tasted good. A huge bonus for the environment and a sustainable way to move forward. Well done, Swire!
My deepest respect and utmost gratitude to seafarers all around the world!! And most recently to these amazing guys!
And that is all I have to say about that. I can hardly express how grateful I am to have been brought one country closer to home. And within Australia awaits a great adventure along with unifications of all sorts. I’ve met many Aussies across the world as well as people who simply decided to settle in Australia. I hope to see many of them. Ultra-wifey will be landing in Sydney on April 10th. My father and his lovely wife are flying in and I will also be making my way down to Melbourne where the one and only Cam Brookes lives with his wife and family. I’ve mentioned Cam a few times over the years as we have been friends for more than fifteen years and have had several good adventures together spanning India, Nepal, Iran, Turkiye, Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand, and naturally Australia. There’s just one thing left to say to the wonderful crew onboard ‘Suva Chief’: I wish you all to have fair winds and following seas! Thank you.
Sure! Why not? This voyage also included the end of a rainbow straight within our path! Could mean something? Could mean nothing.
If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - 'Straylia mate!!!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga